Exploring strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best international food

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eat seven courses of beef with this Vietnamese party meal

In the mood to celebrate? Check out Bò 7 món, a Vietnamese party dish made up of seven courses of beef. Bò 7 món is a meat fest served at Vietnamese events. It denotes wealth, as beef can be pricy in Vietnam. Don't bother inviting your vegetarian friends out for this one. 

Kimbo, a Vietnamese restaurant across from Toronto Western Hospital at 358 Bathurst at Dundas, looks like a dodgy stripclub that hasn't been redecorated since the 1960s. Their bò 7 món costs $25 for two people, and adding a portion for a third person brings the bill to $35. 

Course #1 is the beef fondue (below). The staff bring out a boiling vinegar hot pot to the table on a grill that has been reconstructed with an old coat hanger. "Is this your first time?" the waiter innocently asks, before graciously showing us how to cook the meat and soak the rice paper. The result is a fresh tasting wrap stuffed with mint leaves, basil, vermicelli, daikon and carrot.


I feel a bit cheated when the waitress brings a small tray of rolls out and explained that is dish #2, #3 and #4. The tropical leaf roll is wrapped tight with a leaf like a cigar and covered in crushed peanuts. It tastes like a Middle Eastern kebab. The barbecue beef rolls, made of chopped up fat, beef and vermicelli, were on the sweet side. The grilled satay beef roll is a slice of meat tying together many slices of potent onion. 

Next up was dish #5, the steamed meat jumbo beef ball. This had a rather strange texture because of the tough noodles inside of it. It was followed by #6, a plate of sauteed cube beef. This was a simple but tasty dish of chewy beef pieces with carrot, onion and celery. 

And finally, we got the 7th dish, beef congee. This salty porridge was a bit better than average, with a salty kick and generous about of ground beef. I topped off the meal with a silky avocado milkshake. 

Bò 7 món is a fun way to sample a wide range of Vietnamese cuisine in one setting. While not every dish succeeds, you will have a newfound appreciation for the elastic properties of beef. It's a reasonable but not overwhelming portion of food for a decent price.


Kimbo Restaurant is located at 358 Bathurst Street at Dundas. Tel: 416 603 7817. It's open seven days a week, 11am to 10pm. 

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tea-n-Bannock serves up aboriginal home cooking

Toronto is chock full of restaurants that serve food from all corners of the world, but have you sampled Canada's own traditional recipes? A brand new Eastside restaurant, Tea-n-Bannock, offers up meals that are popular in Canadian aboriginal communities. Unlike the aboriginal-French hybrid restaurant Keriwa Cafe in Parkdale, or the trendy Oliver & Bonacini's Bannock, this food is intended primarily for First Nations customers seeking a taste of home. 


Tea-N-Bannock opened just three weeks ago at 1294 Gerrard Street East (see map below), just a few blocks west of Little India. Stepping in from the street, it feels like you've walked into a tranquil oasis—the room is decorated with birch tree branches and snowshoes, and a recording of birds cooing in the wilderness is playing. 

The menu, posted up on a stretched out animal hide, consists of classic staples of aboriginal communities. Health food it ain't, but it'll keep you going if you're trekking around in the bush. "You can't get any more Canadian than this," explains staffer Timothy Peltier (below), an aboriginal from Manitoulin Island. 

The restaurant sells fried bannock—a traditional native bread with Scottish roots—as well as a baked version, which is more common in northern Ontario. The bannock forms the base for dishes such as the blanket dog (a fried hot dog in bannock) and Indian tacos (fried bannock served with ground beef, chili spice, lettuce, cheese and tomato).

The corn soup ($4, above left) is a heavy, tasty meal, with gravy-like broth full of hominy (dried, processed maize kernels), beans, tender flakes of pork and chunky potatoes. The trapper's snack ($3.50, above right) is two airy, fresh pieces of baked bannock topped with slices of Klik, a spam-like processed meat that tastes like a super-salty hot dog. 

Around three quarters of Tea-n-Bannock's patrons are aboriginal, and the restaurant also serves as a gathering space for native events on the weekends. The restaurant is only open until 7pm right now, but there are plans to create a full dinner menu and add new items such as smoked deer wild rice soup. 

Tea-n-Bannock is located at 1294 Gerrard Street East. Telephone: 416 220 2915. Hours are Tuesday to Friday 11 to 7; Saturday 12 to 7. 

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